Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

Map of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, in West Africa, emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002, with the help of Britain, the former colonial power, and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission.

More than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. Several years on, the country still faces the challenge of reconstruction.

A lasting feature of the war, in which tens of thousands died, was the atrocities committed by the rebels, whose trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.

A UN-backed war crimes court was set up to try those, from both sides, who bear the greatest responsibility for the brutalities. It completed its work at the end of 2009. Its remaining case, the trial of Charles Taylor, continues in The Hague.

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At a glance

Politics: Sierra Leone is recovering from a 10-year civil war which ended in 2002; war centred around a power struggle and had a regional dimension

Economics: Substantial growth in recent years, but Sierra Leone remains bottom of UN's league for human development

Sierra Leone has experienced substantial economic growth in recent years, although poverty and unemployment remain major challenges.

In September 2010, the UN Security Council lifted the last remaining sanctions against Sierra Leone saying the government had fully re-established control over its territory, and former rebel fighters had been disarmed and demobilised.

Economic recovery has been slow partly because the reconstruction needs are so great. Around half of government revenue comes from donors.

The restoration of peace was expected to aid the the country's promotion as a tourist destination in the long term. Sierra Leone boasts miles of unspoilt beaches along its Atlantic coast, and hopes to emulate its neighbour Gambia in attracting tourists.

Sierra Leone is also rich in diamonds and other minerals. The trade in illicit gems, known as “blood diamonds” for their role in funding conflicts, perpetuated the civil war. The government has attempted to crack down on cross-border diamond trafficking.

Sierra Leone has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. It was the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.

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